A new study indicates that giving autistics with a fresh supply of healthy gut bacteria through a fecal transplant could enhance their condition. This could be a significant site of intervention for autism spectrum disorders.
The study was printed in the journal Microbiome in late January. It was led by researchers at Arizona State University, according to Chicago Tribune.
James Adams, a co-author of the study and an autism researcher at Arizona State University, said that after the procedure, the children experienced a 25 percent reduction in symptoms related to language, social interaction and repetitive behaviors. He further said that it is not a cure for autism, but in 10 weeks they were able to make a substantial dent.
Adams explained that many children with autism suffer from chronic gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and constipation, often from infancy. This is because they either carry harmful gut bacteria or lack many healthy strains.
Huffington Post reports that about trillions of bacteria living in the digestive tract have been associated with mental and neurological disorders. These include depression, Parkinson' disease, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Those who are diagnosed with autism have been found to have a less diverse gut microbial community and lower levels of healthy bacteria than neurotypical children. These have a significant role in the behavioral symptoms of the disorder.
"The role of the microbiome in autism has received a lot of attention in the last couple of years," said Dr. Mathew Pletcher, the vice-president and head of genomic discovery at Autism Speaks, a research and advocacy organization. He further said that there is a lot of data supporting a link between behavior and digestive health.
The new study indicates that "microbial transfer therapy" through fecal transplants could improve the diversity of the gut microbiome. This could ease the gastrointestinal and behavioral symptoms of autism. On the other hand, fecal transplants are not approved yet by the Food and Drug Administration. It is still working on this. Meanwhile, the results of the study were promising. Adams said that the findings were "very compelling."